Zero Notifications: Two Years Without Facebook

A first-hand experience of unplugging from the social network.

A few years ago, I considered myself a Facebook power user. I posted about everything from major life events to daily mundane tasks and I shared articles that many times I hadn’t fully read. I liked, I commented, I tagged, and I engaged in debates with people I barely knew. I was addicted to the white-on-red numbers as notifications.

Fast forward to February 2015, to a social media event simply known now as “the dress” or “dressgate” (the internet loves its “gates” doesn’t it?). I saw friends and family divide themselves into white and gold vs. black and blue. I had even aligned myself with the black and blue crowd before I finally asked myself, “Why do I care about this, or any of the other nonsense I’ve been sharing?”

The original picture of “the dress”

I took a step back. I spent a few days without posting anything or even logging into my account. Facebook had been a part of my life since 2006, back when an existing user had to “invite” me to use Facebook. I found myself actively avoiding this thing that had been my social connection for almost a decade.

Surprisingly, I felt relieved. A weight had been lifted and I decided this was how I wanted to live my life. So, I navigated through my account settings, found the “deactivate my account” section, and took the plunge into a life without Facebook.

Initially, there were some frustrating moments. I had to get a new Spotify account and some other new accounts that were tied to Facebook and wouldn’t work anymore. Some friends who didn’t have my phone number were not able to tell me they were coming to town and I missed out on some events for the same reason.

But after a little while, friends and family started to reach out, curious to know why they couldn’t find me on Facebook anymore. We engaged in “catching up” conversations where we actually had no idea what the other person had been up to. We didn’t pretend to be surprised about life events because we were finding out for the first time. Friends would personally invite me to events they wanted me to come to, or I received email invites. My social life didn’t suffer.

At first, I struggled to keep up with news and recent events. I felt uninformed. But then I felt liberated. I signed up for theSkimm and started getting news sent to my email once a day. I didn’t have to sort through “fake news” and I didn’t follow the 24-hour news cycle. I didn’t have to read the news at all if I didn’t want to. My experience of the 2016 election wasn’t colored by opinions and commentary. I will admit that when the election results came in, I was surprised, and I asked myself if I was living in a bubble. I thought maybe if I had been on Facebook I would have seen it coming. But I’ve since been assured that Facebook can be its own giant bubble.

Life kept happening when I wasn’t writing a status about every detail. I was happy. I was sad. I loved and was loved. I left the country for the first time. I camped at the top of the Grand Canyon. I found out my dad had cancer and I watched him recover. I ended and started relationships. I went to music festivals and I saw a lot of live music. I lost weight. I gained weight. I lost weight again. I bought a motorcycle. I rode my motorcycle from New York to Illinois (and will be riding from Illinois to New York this spring). I switched jobs. I switched jobs again. I hiked on the Appalachian Trail. I drank whiskey on the Bourbon Trail. Niagara Falls fell on me. I got a tattoo. I moved apartments. I celebrated 5 years in New York City. I showed my mom my new city for the first time. I became a fan of NYCFC and Chelsea FC. I picked the guitar back up and I haven’t put it down.

At the Grand Canyon, on the Appalachian Trail, and under Niagara Falls.

I also sat on my butt and watched Netflix. Some days I didn’t do anything at all. And I’m sure I was a pain to a few people along the way, too.

Now, two years after leaving leaving Facebook, I decided to reactivate my account. Almost immediately, some friends asked what I had been up to. I realized the people I hadn’t stayed in touch with had no idea where I worked, what my relationship status was, or even what I looked like now. I posted a status for the first time since deactivating, I updated my basic information, and I posted a new profile picture. Then I watched the notifications roll in. A certain feeling I forgot about returned. My ego had a field day.

I let myself get sucked in for a moment. I enjoyed the attention. Then, I closed the browser window. If the last two years served any purpose, they taught me self-control when it comes to my relationship with technology.

At the very least, living without Facebook was an interesting social experiment, one that I would recommend for anyone to try. I’m still figuring out how I’ll be using Facebook going forward, if at all. I think one friend put it best when he commented about my return, “Welcome back to the cult.”